Another chance at the dance for Dunphy, Owls

Temple coach Fran Dunphy is 1-12 in NCAA tournament games with the Owls and Penn. "It's how you are measured," he said.
Temple coach Fran Dunphy is 1-12 in NCAA tournament games with the Owls and Penn. "It's how you are measured," he said.
Posted: March 14, 2011

Everyone from the most learned of bracket experts to the most casual of fans could look at the national college basketball landscape and find a place on the NCAA tournament map for the Temple Owls this season.

But even for coach Fran Dunphy, who is more learned than casual, it was still at least a minor relief to hear the school's name called on Sunday evening. Gathered in a meeting room adjacent to the lobby of the Liacouras Center, the Owls leaped from their chairs and whooped when they received a seventh seed in West Regional and whooped again a moment later when it was announced that their opponent in Tucson, Ariz. would be Penn State.

There is always whooping at the start, and Temple deserved to celebrate. But now comes the tough work for a team that played poorly in its last game, an Atlantic Ten semifinal loss to Richmond on Saturday.

"You worry a little about the distance [to Tucson] for fans and family members who would want to come," Dunphy said. "It would be better if it were a little closer, but if you said after [Saturday's] game, 'You're in, and you're a seventh seed, and you're playing Penn State, but it's in Tucson, Arizona,' I would have signed the papers - because you know you're in."

If you want to read about the head-scratching way the NCAA tournament committee puts together its bracket, and pick apart the little things that appear to be wrong with this year's, there's plenty of that out there to find. The same story can be written every year. The process is the process, and not everyone is going to like it.

The locations chosen for the seventh seeds, however, is bizarre, and it's worth taking a moment to point them out. Of those seeds, Temple goes to Tucson, the University of Washington goes to Charlotte, Texas A&M goes to Cleveland, and UCLA goes to Tampa. I'm sure that somewhere amid the decimal points and the rankings and the ratings, that makes perfect sense, but someone would have to prove that.

Leaving aside that minor quibble, Temple was treated fairly, and the Owls have a reasonable chance of at least winning an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 2001. Temple won three of them that year to reach the Elite Eight, including a regional semifinal win over Penn State.

Someone asked Dunphy if he thought the Owls could make a significant run in the tournament, which is a cart-and-horse question that coaches eat for breakfast.

"Make a run? We need to win a game. We haven't done that for the last three years," Dunphy said. "We can do that if we play great defense, make great decisions on offense, and make our share of shots. Probably the other 67 coaches if you asked that question, they would answer it the same way."

This is Dunphy's fifth season at Temple after 17 years with Penn. Everywhere he goes, all he does is win. The Owls are making their fourth straight tournament appearance, and he got the Quakers into the NCAA tournament nine times. It would have been 10, but Penn tied Princeton for the automatic bid one season and lost a one-game playoff.

Penn was always seeded poorly, of course, and the Quakers were 1-9 in the NCAA tournament under Dunphy, winning a 1994 game with an upset of Nebraska. Since moving to Temple, Dunphy is 0-3 in tournament play with the Owls. There is not a person on earth who would view Fran Dunphy as a 1-12 coach, but that is the number, and it says more about the nature of the system than about the quality of the coaching.

Like the wise guys said, however, this is the life he has chosen, and college basketball coaches, fairly or not, will never be judged for what they do in January and February. The tournament is so big now that its results can blot out everything else.

"It's the way the game has evolved. . . . Don't argue with it. Accept it. In many ways, it's how you are measured," Dunphy said, "like an NFL quarterback being measured by whether he can get to a Super Bowl. So, Dan Marino didn't have a great, great career? You're measured [as a coach] by how you do in the tournament. That's the life that we lead."

This life that leads them into the NCAA tournament will end for all but one of the coaches involved with a dreadful suddenness, a clock-spinning span of two hours in which six months of effort toward a goal comes crashing into an impenetrable wall.

"Whenever that time comes, when it's over, I'm going to look at [senior forward] Lavoy Allen and say, 'That's it? No more?' That's hard. Those things are very hard," Dunphy said. "But that's the life we lead."

While it lasts, while the whooping is still ringing in their ears, while the ride continues, there's no better life, and no better place to be than on a basketball court with a chance to advance. That's all the teams ask, a chance, and once again Temple has it.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com and read his blog at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/bob_fords_post_patterns/

 

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